St Vincent

“Oh Bill Murray. A Hollywood icon. Never ceasing to surprise. Between all his quirky antics on screen and off, he’s a beloved icon. And again with the surprises in St Vincent.

I honestly had pretty low expectations. From the trailer, the film looked okay, but maybe a little awkward. It was questionable how funny I’d find it. But I kept hearing good things (even long shot awards talk), mostly around Murray. I’d assumed it was just because people love him so much and not necessarily a reflection of this film or his work in it. I was wrong. The movie was surprisingly very good, and Murray’s performance had some real skill and sides of him we haven’t seen before.

Murray plays Vincent, the crotchety old neighbor to single mom Maggie (an excellent and refreshingly grounded Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Against her better judgement, Maggie hires Vincent to take care of Oliver after school. They get into all sorts of shenanigans, at the race track and bars and paling around “”lady of the night”” Daka (Naomi Watts). Yet, there’s depth to Vincent. I don’t really wanna give anything away, but there’s far more to him than the cranky old man surface.

The film had a lot of heart and humor. There were points where I felt really emotional and points where I was constantly letting out little chuckles. There was just something so real about it. Murray was phenomenal, and I kind of hope that long shot buzz comes thru for him. At the very least, he should be a lock for a Globe nomination given the comedy/drama split. I was also really impressed with McCarthy. I do adore her, but often times her shtick is a bit much. Playing the straight character works for her. She’s capable of forming a real connection with the audience.

I’d gone to an early (10 AM) show, and shared the auditorium with some guy in the back and an older gentleman on the other end of the first row. He came up to me afterwards commenting about how great the movie was. I told him I agreed and basically said everything I just repeated in the first paragraph about low expectations. So it’s good to know I’m not the only one who liked it. Sure, some of it may have been a lil contrived and borderline cheesy, but it worked. I completely understand why director Theodore Melfi worked so hard to obtain Murray for this film. He’s truly the heart and soul of this movie.

St Vincent – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

John Wick

“Here’s how my awareness of this movie went down. I’d heard the title and mention of Keanu Reeves. Didn’t hear much else. Saw the release date was coming up. Deprioritized it since it was coming up soon, and I still hadn’t seen a trailer. Started looking at the weekend’s schedule and saw a possible opening, but I wasn’t quite sold. Then a few days ago, I found out that it was directed by Reeves’ former student double. Intriguing. Schedule was light, so I kept it on there, with the option of bailing if I just wasn’t feeling it. Then I started to hear it was actually pretty good. Okay fine.

You know what, it was kinda good. Not Matrix revolutionary or anything, but solid one guy against the world action flick. Wick was at one time the baddest of the bad, the deadliest of the deadly, the last guy in the world you wanna catch on the wrong side of a gun. He retired to be with his ill wife. After she passes, some men from his past life pick the wrong day and the wrong way to cross him. So he goes after them. And lots of other people who get in the way.

I think part of what sold this movie was that his motivation and intention was clear. It wasn’t just a pure shoot ’em up. There was intent behind everything, and Reeves was committed. Also, director Chad Stahelski’s experience in stunts gives him a very good eye for action. Sequences were crisp and fast and just spot on awesome. Hopefully he’s given the chance to run with this sort of movie more in the future.

John Wick – \m/ \m/ \m/

Kill the Messenger

“Not sure how much there is to say about this one. Jeremy Renner stars in the true life story of journalist Gary Webb. Webb uncovers a connection between the US government (specifically the CIA) and the import of cocaine into the US and corresponding wars in South America. The film kinda falls into two parts: first is Webb trying to put together his story, then comes the aftermath and the effect on his life and family. The first half was much more thrilling, even if I couldn’t keep all the details straight. The second half felt like it lost momentum. Still, it was a very interesting and suspenseful story. Renner is such a good everyman. You forget that he’s an A lister, as he just naturally fits into the small home life. I also really love Rosemary DeWitt, who played his wife. She too has a very real quality on screen. This kind of came and went at the movies, and in my brain too, not unlike how Webb’s eventual findings and chance at redemption got swept under the rug, hidden behind bigger news.

Kill the Messenger – \m/ \m/ \m/

The Book of Life

“Probably common knowledge by now, but I grew up in a Texas border town. I was raised in Mexican culture as much as American. I don’t typically miss home. Lots of reasons for that. The first few years I moved out to Boston, I would get wicked cravings for the food, but I eventually got past that. (Not that I’m over the food, but I’ve learned to live without it until my yearly Christmas visit). Now while I may not be in any hurry to go back and visit, occasionally a movie will take me back. That I’m fine with. If done well enough, I’ll even welcome that quick trip. Book of Life was one of those rare excursions.

Even from the trailers, I could see how absolutely beautiful the animation was. My family never celebrated Dia De Los Muertos, but its associated art and decorations were all around every fall. I was excited to see those intricate designs and bright colors on the screen. The calaveras and papel picado seemed pulled right from my childhood. And then during the film, it was things like the characters names and nicknames, the phrases, the accents, the subjects of their small talk that really felt like I’d made it back to the border.

As far as the story goes, it was your typical childrens animated film. Nothing too groundbreaking there, but the color and culture were plenty to carry it thru. The voice cast (especially our lead, Diego Luna) also had an energy and charisma that permeated the screen. There was a fun mix of original and reimaged classic songs. Not too many so as to not overpower the film, but just enough to tug at the heart.

I may not wanna go back home often, but I was certainly happy with this kind of trip

The Book of Life – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Whiplash

“Playing catch up a bit out of order. Watching Whiplash was such a visceral experience, I wanted to recap it while the feeling was still in my bones.

It sounds simple enough. Whiplash is about a young drummer Andrew (Miles Teller), studying at a Julliard-esque school with the ambition of being the best of his generation. He aspires to be a part of the best jazz band in the school, led by the drill sergeant like Fletcher (JK Simmons). He gets more than he bargains for with Fletcher’s extreme teaching style and harsh criticisms.

Maybe it was the slight caffeine jolt from the Mountain Dew I had a few sips of to help me thru the night’s double feature (I usually avoid caffeine), but I don’t think I’ve ever felt my heart pounding as hard and as fast thru a film as it did during this one. The range of emotions that Teller depicted, I felt alongside him. The thing is, I could relate in the worst way.

I may not be much of a musician. I can play a little guitar, but with nowhere near a noteworthy skill level. What I am is a dancer. I know what it’s like to be in a rigorous artistic program. Maybe not to the level shown on screen, but I too have dealt with an instructor who teaches by yelling. I know what it’s like to try and give in to your passion, but being too on edge trying to strive for perfection. Hell, the need to be perfect extended beyond trying to keep my childhood ballet instructor yelling at me. It was in trying to keep my parents from getting upset if I got a bad grade on my report card (where bad was defined by a ridiculously high number that most would be ecstatic to receive). Even now, in the more laid back dance classes I take, I feel that same anxiety around getting every step perfect. I tried getting back into ballet over the summer, and it was weeks until I could relax and let myself breathe. I had a lot to work thru to truly understand that this instructor was more chill, and if she were to correct me, it would be out of kindness.

Watching everything Andrew allowed himself to be put thru, I felt my sore muscles from this week’s dancing tightening up even more. Fletcher verbally abused, yelled, threw things, made horrific threats, and was generally not someone you’d want to be around. Yet what maddened me more, was that Andrew put up with it. He wasn’t entirely blameless in everything that was going on. He made some very poor decisions along the way, allowing the situation to escalate and further endangering his own well being.

Our leading men were both fantastic. Miles Teller has grown, taking incrementally more and more difficult roles over time, rising to each occasion beautifully. He also had the added challenge of believably playing the drums like an expert. Often times it was his own blood on the kit. And Simmons, oh my God. I’ve admired him for a long time. He really lights up the screen in the bit roles he always gets. Usually the loveable but clueless dad, or the doofy minor character. Fletcher is as far removed from anything I’ve seen him do as he could possibly be. I was scared of him on more than one occassion during the movie. Total commitment to a role that’s difficult because he’s so unlikeable. No one wants to get into that headspace. But he did and it was incredible. The title Whiplash doesn’t just refer to one of the songs they work on, but also the feeling you get watching the camera pan back and forth very quickly trying to keep up with the intensity coming from both sides. Insane.

Between walking out of the auditorium and getting to the T station, I heard multiple groups of people talking about the film. All of them expression some of the same feelings I had about it. My first instinct on the way home was to text a musically inclined friend and order him to see this. Always a mark of a good film when I have to tell someone specific to see it. I’d also heard that Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich, was so impressed with the movie, he reached out to Teller and asked if there was anything he could do to help promote it. Pretty soon he started hosting screenings. So at least we know it’s got the seal of approval from someone who knows these things. Me, I’m still trying to get my heart rate back down.

Whiplash – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Fury

“Expecations weren’t that high for this. I didn’t think it’d be bad, but I did expect it to be another retread, covering the same war grounds we’ve seen before. It kinda started out that way. Blah blah battles with some shock factor -> awkwardness in the middle -> oh wow, this is actually getting kinda good. 9 times out of 10 a movie starts off strong then tapers off. Once in a while, though, you’ve got one that starts off okay and then gets significantly stronger by the end. A good third act will stay with you more than any good first acts.

What really worked is how everything was contained to one tank and the five men who manned it. While things started off with an overview of what was going on throughout the world, what ultimately mattered is what went on within those iron walls. By this point, I’ve seen enough such scenes that I tend to get bored with big sweeping battle sequences. However, I had gotten so attached to these characters that I was watching for them, following their every movements.

Back it up a bit. We’re in WWII, Logan Lerman’s Norman is fresh on the field and assigned to replace a fallen soldier in Brad Pitt’s, Wardaddy, tank, Fury. As Norman is thrown into the fire, not only learning the ropes about the tank, but learning about war, we follow the team which also includes Michael Pena, Shia LeBeouf, and Jon Bernthal. It may sound a little yawn-y, but trust me, these boys sell it.

I was actually impressed with all five of their performances. Pena and Pitt, as consistent as ever. LeBeouf as committed as ever. Bernthal crazier than I’ve seen. His character took some getting used to. And Lerman, rapidly climbing up my favorite list, showed such growth with his arc and as an actor. I may have gone in dreading the 2+ hours of wannabe epicness I thought I was in for, but I walked out happy for having spent that time with these boys. Shout out to one more boy, David Ayer, the writer/director responsible, and also the man behind End of Watch (a fave from two years ago) and the acclaimed Training Day. Yup, he’s legit

Fury – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Princess Bride

“Cary Elwes was in town the other night! You prolly best know him as Westley in The Princess Bride. He was promoting his new book, so the local indie theater had weekend long showings of The Princess Bride. I was there at the first one that included Elwes introducing the film. I later found out that same night NPH was nearby promoting his book, but I’d already gotten my tickets for Bride. Let’s hope my personalization request on my book order went thru. But I digress. Elwes took a minute to plug his book, thank the theater and book store, and then said he had two things to say: 1-Have fun storming the castle. 2-As you wish. Okay, so a bit minimal on the appearance, but it was still a chance to see The Princess Bride on a big screen with a sold out crowd. That’s always gonna be a win.

I don’t remember when I first saw this film. It’s one of those that I heard talked about and quoted so often that by the time I did finally see it for the first time, it didn’t feel like the first time. It felt like I’d seen it countless times before. It was like I’d always known it.

For me, the best thing about this movie is the dialog. Let’s face it, the story itself is a little cliche (and we won’t even discuss what it says about gender roles), and while the characters are very endearing, they’re not particularly multidimensional. The fun is in the unexpected, the silly situations they often talk their way out of. You’d be hard pressed to find a more quotable movie than this. “”Inconceivable!”” “”As you wish”” “”My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”” “”Anybody want a peanut?”” “”Have fun storming the castle”” “”Never start a land war in Asia”” It goes on. Watching it again, there’s so many more great lines that I didn’t even remember. Once in a rare while, I describe watching a good comedy in a theater as there being a constant low buzz of laughter. This time, it was constant loud spurts of laughter, every other minute. Basically as soon as the sound quieted enough to be able to hear the next line, it started up again. Inconceivable!

Oh and I don’t recommend ever reading the book. I kind of blocked out from my memory how boring it was, until I stumbled on an old Facebook status where I lamented that I was reading it and didn’t want to be reading it anymore, except I hate leaving books unfinished. It takes a more historic approach to things, and none of the magic that makes the movie special is there. This movie really is something truly special.

Amores Perros

“I am so freaking excited for Birdman this weekend. Now even though I know that the style is a departure from him (besides an article or two confirming it, the trailer tells me as much), I figured it might be a good idea to familiarize myself with director Alejandro González Iñárritu. I’ve seen Babel and Biutiful, and must have had 21 Grams on in the background once (I own the DVD but I couldn’t tell you anything that happened). While out shopping during last week’s vacation, I found a Barnes and Noble and it had a $4.99 DVD section. I picked up Amores Perros, and opted to watch it today.

The (rather lengthy) movie circles around 3 storylines. The stories are connected by a car crash, joining the fates of the characters. The vignettes are told separately, not intertwined a la Crash or Magnolia. And they all involve dogs.

My strongest impression is that as an animal lover, this is a very tough movie to watch. There are dog fights and other perilous puppy positions. It’s a little upsetting, as I keep grabbing for my cat who has decided to nap thru this next to me.

I was most into the first story, about Octavio. He gets involved in dogfighting in an attempt to make enough money to run away with his brother’s mistreated wife. The next story, about Valeria recovering from the car accident and losing her dog in a hole in the floor of her apartment was interesting, even if not much was going on. By the time we finally reached El Chivo’s story, I’d pretty much checked out.

At least this is one I can finally cross off the list. I don’t know that I paid enough attention to get a bead on Iñárritu, but I’m still pretty sure that all bets will be off for Birdman.

The Judge

“Coming back from my LA vacay, I figured I could squeeze in one jet lagged movie on Sun afternoon after I arrived in from the red eye. Airport -> home -> nap -> movie -> more nap -> gaming -> bedtime. Adding in a second movie would be pushing my luck for awake-ness, and the times didn’t really work anyways. Figured that the longer film option would be good to hit on a single movie day. It was kind of the higher priority new release anyways.

Robert Downey Jr stars alongside Robert Duvall as a son and father whose lives revolve around the law. RDJr being a bigshot defense lawyer in the big city and Duvall a longtime respected judge in a small town. When their mother/wife passes away, RDJr returns to his hometown and his estranged father. When realizing that their relationship is unlikely to be mended, he’s ready to quickly depart to his big city, leaving his roots behind him. He’s called back when his father is arrested for manslaughter, having allegedly killed an old enemy with his vehicle.

I like to think of October as the wannabe Oscar month. True, once in a while you’ll have something like Argo that starts off early and gains momentum, or you’ll have your Gone Girl-esque non-conventional contender that doesn’t fit any awards mold and therefore sets its own schedule. But more than those, you have a bunch of movies that have the feel of an Oscar film but not enough heft behind it, or maybe could be a contender in a weaker year. There’s also the ones that really think they could be something, but just watching the trailer makes you say “”Oh, honey, no”” and you kinda feel sorry for them and their eventual letdown, but at the same time you admire their courage and determination. The Judge falls somewhere in one of those categories, I’d say probably contender-in-a-weaker-year.

Just watch the trailer and you’ll see all those “”Academy Award nominee/winner”” tags attached to the names. RDJr and Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thorton, and then Vincent D’Onofrio is jsut sort of thrown in there (maybe someone’s a big fan of The Cell or MiB). And all of those performances here are strong. Maybe they could be up for something if competition wasn’t so stiff (actually Duvall is getting some longshot chatter). The problem is the film is so formulaically Oscar bait, that no one falls for it anymore. That isn’t to say the film is bad, it was rather good, but it doesn’t provide the kind of fresh excitement you need to pull in the big prize. Or any prize.

RDJr got another chance to play the fast talking, ultra confident, egomaniac with a heart of gold we love this Iron Man for. Duvall shows us why his name is still mentioned with respect. The emotional script was very engaging. The film just never had that “”wow”” moment. And that’s why it was released in October.

The Judge – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Pride

“My two favorite feelings when leaving a movie are deeply disturbed or incredibly happy (and not just happy because it was a good movie, but genuinely joyful and moved by the story/characters). I can’t think of any examples right off the bat that hit both (they’re kinda polar opposites), but I did hit both between two movies within a week of each other. Gone Girl hit the disturbing button quite square on the nose. Pride left me really really happy.

Pride takes place in England during the miners strikes in the mid-80s. A group of LBGT kids, recognizing the similarities in their struggles, rally together to raise money for and support a small mining town. Prejudices have to be overcome on both sides, and both come to find a love and acceptance they never expected.

Yeah yeah yeah that sounds very sappy. And it was. But I didn’t care. Some of these kids had never felt that acceptance before, and it was beautiful to see. Each of the characters were sweet and unique, and I loved following each of them, seeing how various mining families basically adopted one of the gay kids. I texted a handful of my friends on the way out, encouraging them to see this if they had a chance. If you like feeling happy after a movie, you should check it out too!

Pride – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/